State superintendent responds to governor’s call for earlier school start

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond issued the following statement in response to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s remarks that public schools might start the next school year earlier.

“We look forward to working closely with Governor Gavin Newsom and our partners in education to ask the right questions and seek the urgent answers schools need to determine their next steps in this new, uncharted future,” said Thurmond. “We share the Governor’s aspirations for re-opening our schools as soon as possible. If we are going to do this, it can only be done when we are sure we can protect the health and safety of everyone in our school communities.

“Our students, families, teachers, and classified staff have been amazing and inspiring in their hard work to shift to distance learning under unprecedented circumstances. Even if schools re-open sooner than anticipated, it’s possible we will need to continue some form of remote learning to maintain social distancing. What will that look like, and what resources need to be in place to make that possible? Our broad coalition of leaders from across California and beyond will rise to this challenge by seeking answers to these hard questions.”

According to a statement from the superintendent’s office, Thurmond has convened a statewide working group of collaborators charged with exploring what factors need to be considered before schools can safely re-open and what must be accomplished to protect the health and safety of students, families, teachers, and classified staff. The group includes the governor’s office, superintendents from throughout California, the State Board of Education, the California Office of Emergency Services, the Department of Finance, California Health and Human Services, employee group leadership representing teachers and classified staff, and associations representing school administrators and business officials..

“We all heard for the first time today the idea of schools reopening as early as July or August. If possible, this could help us address equity issues facing our most vulnerable students while providing an opportunity to start recovering the learning loss we know students have experienced between the time we closed campuses and shifted to distance learning.

“We also recognize the importance of schools reopening to help parents and caregivers in their much-needed return to work,” Thurmond said. “If this is going to work, there are some major questions we will have to answer. First and foremost: Can this be done in a way that protects the health and safety of our students, teachers, and school staff?

“We also must consider the fiscal implications. Social distancing in schools may require smaller class sizes, but schools are going to need additional resources to make it happen—including the possibility of hiring more teachers. Additionally, teachers and school staff will need personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies so that our schools are sanitized. We expect that some form of social distancing will be with us through the summer, so if we start school early, we need resources to make it a reality.

“Clearly, for now, we still have more questions than answers. But now is the time for us to problem-solve and plan for the future. Together, we will create a path forward that works for all students.”